As more groups protest, is message more confusing?

Analysis: Expert in social protests says the more demands the more difficult it is for the government to come forward and address them.

stroller march jerusalem_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
stroller march jerusalem_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It started nearly three weeks ago as a student protest over the rising cost of housing in central Tel Aviv, then spread to include groups such as doctors (who were already protesting), young mothers, Arab-Israelis and people with disabilities.
Now, as 2011’s “summer of discontent” sees more and more sectors and interest groups airing their grievances at public demonstrations and in tent cities, the question arises whether the message for social change has become stronger or more convoluted? “In a practical sense, the more people there are trying to get specific benefits the more difficult it is for each group,” Bar-Ilan University Prof. Sam Lehman- Wilzig, who has authored two books on social protests in Israel, commented on Wednesday. “The more demands there are the more the message gets diffused and the more difficult it is for the government to come forward and address the demands.”
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On Wednesday, there was an abundance of groups announcing forthcoming protests, including representatives of Israel’s Russian-speaking community also angry over rising housing costs, and social workers and professionals helping children at risk upset at intensive government privatization of welfare services in recent years.
Others who have joined the protests in recent days include parents of children with autism, angry at the Education Ministry’s failure to adequately provide frameworks for their children, and people with disabilities, whose ongoing social grievances often go unheeded by the political establishment.
“While it is now more difficult for specific groups to be heard above all these voices, on a higher level, the more groups that get involved, the more it looks to be stronger further down the road,” said Lehman-Wilzig, highlighting that the social protests are surely inspired by the Arab Spring sweeping the region and are likely to shift popular attention here from security to more salient social issues.
According to the professor, even as many new groups continue to join the summer protests with their own demands, the overall message is becoming clearer.
“We are seeing a vast cross-section of Israeli society that has had enough of privatization and capitalization,” observed Lehman-Wilzig. “They are demanding a return, not to socialism but to a stronger social welfare system.”
He added: “What is becoming most clear is that there is a powerful voice and force that believes Israeli society has swung too far to the right and society is pushing back and demanding something more in the middle.”
While Lehman-Wilzig does not know if the protesters – who attempted earlier this week to prioritize their demands – will be successful, he ultimately believes the swing towards social justice “could paradoxically have a greater effect in the coming election” and could even reshape the country’s political landscape.
“It is possible that new parties may emerge and even existing parties might have to put more focus on social issues,” said Lehman-Wilzig, adding there is still two years to go until the next general election and the focus on social versus security matters could swing back around.
“It all depends on how much the present coalition government changes in its policy and what is done to answer the demands of the protesters,” he said.
“Obviously it is connected to what will happen in the peace process or foreign policy front. If nothing major happens in the next two years then obviously the social issues raised this summer will still be highly salient.”
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